A four-day work week might seem unachievable for many business owners. How could you possibly squeeze everything you and your employees do into just four days? Perhaps you don’t want to lose productivity or fall behind competitors. For online retailers, that might mean one less day to ship out orders.
Bookishly owner Louise Verity had these concerns, too. But when the pandemic upended how she ran her business—an online store selling gifts for book lovers—she became more open to the idea. Louise had already adapted her employees’ work schedules to change when and how many people could go into the office—and customers didn’t seem to mind waiting for Bookishly packages.
“It made me realize that maybe we can actually work out how to be efficient enough to actually have a go at four-day week,” Louise says.
Last year, Louise joined a trial in the UK to test out the new format, and this year, she decided to make it a permanent change. Here is her advice for switching to a four-day work schedule.
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Customize the schedule to your business needs
There are manyways to implement a four-day work week, so you should pick the one that will work best for your team. At Bookishly, the team decided to take Wednesdays off. That way, they wouldn’t go three days straight without fulfilling their online orders.
For a while, they considered staggering which day everyone took off, but in the end, they found that staggering meant that someone was always covering for someone else. Having everyone take the same day off meant they could focus on their own tasks.
Go in with an open mind
Louise says the trial put everyone in the right mindset. If an issue arose, the team tried not to blame the four-day work week.
“We had a period of a few weeks where it felt very frantic,almost like, ‘Oh gosh, is the four-day week not working?’ Because I feel really stressed and busy, and so does some of the team. This doesn’t feel like it should be,” Louise says.
But it wasn’t all-or-nothing. They realized the hecticness was caused by employees’ overlapping vacations. With fewer days in the work week, Bookishly had to create a better system for tracking and organizing time off.
Create a support system
Another unexpected challenge of a four-day work week? Dealing with errors. Louise says they happen rarely, but she didn’t want anyone to have to spend their fifth day dealing with a problem. So, the company decided to implement an all-hands-on-deck approach to resolve issues quickly, instead of it taking up one person’s entire day.
“Knowing in advance that that’s how we’re going to approach it if it happens, it just feels like a team,” Louise says. “And it means that we can preserve the four day week by just having that little process in place to make sure that that doesn’t become a problem.”
Communicate the change with customers
Louise learned during the pandemic that customers were more tolerant about delivery times than she expected. Even with slow shipping times across the UK, customers seemed to just like knowing when something is shipped. “We’ve got a very clear message on every product listing on our Shopify site that it says when something will be dispatched,” she says.
Bookishly also sends out of office email notifications on Wednesdays, so their partners know they aren’t working. Louise says they’ve received positive replies to these messages and most people are impressed they can manage it.
Harness the added efficiency
Lousie says she’s definitely seen the improvement in productivity. “I see things moving more quickly. People are more focused. I think it’s like an incentive to get things done,” she says.
And it was strangely good timing. The switch to a four-day week aligned with her company’s shift from DTC to B2B. “Having to put together wholesale orders rather than individual orders means bigger size orders, lower margins, and needing to be more efficient,” Louise says. As such, it was an opportune time to rethink processes.
Now, her company has expanded its business to supplying products to indie bookstores and museums and dropshipping for other retailers.
To learn more about Bookishly, their battle with a copycat product from a major bookstore, and how it found its niche, listen to Louise’s full interview on Shopify Masters.